Desperately Seeking Sensei
If you speak to anyone who has attained a high level of mastery in their chosen field of study they will often make reference to their inspiration, influences and teachers that guided them on their own journey of exploration. During my process and still today, I hold a deep respect for the sacred tradition of this intimate relationship of mentorship.
This relationship of Master/apprentice, Teacher/student, and Coach/client has always been present throughout history in one manner or another. The master artist taught a school of personal technique and style to the student, the master tradesmen instructed the apprentice in the art of the craft, an honorable Liege shaped the courtly life of the page, the spiritual guru awakened the disciple, a professional coach hones the skill of the athlete in training, and the wise Sensei refines the eager student…
Below are some definitions of terms used from different cultures to describe that relationship.
Mentor: (Latin, from Greek Mentor is the friend of Odysseus entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son Telemachus) A guide, trusted counselor, tutor, adviser or coach
Master: (Old English, derived from measter) One who has power over something, An expert at something, One who is qualified to teach apprentices, highly skilled
Sensei: (Japanese, that is literally translated as person born before another). In general usage, it is used, with proper form, after a person’s name, and means “teacher”, A title to refer to or address figures of authority. To show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill: martial arts, novelists, musicians, artists, priests, or a roshi.
Swami: (Hindi, meaning master, lord, prince), used as a term of respectful address, is an ascetic or yogi who has been initiated into the religious monastic order founded by some religious teacher.
Guru: (Sanskrit, “GU” means shadows and “RU” refers to one who has the power to disperse them. therefore the Guru is seen as the one who “dispels the darkness of ignorance.”) teacher, Master, educator of wisdom. In Hinduism, the guru is considered a respected person with saintly qualities who enlightens the mind of his or her disciple. In the guru/disciple relationship subtle and advanced knowledge is conveyed and received through the student’s respect, commitment, devotion and obedience. The student eventually masters the knowledge that the guru embodies.
More recently in the world of pop-culture we even see the brave “super hero” rigorously train the trusty sidekick in the ways of fighting crime and of course who can forget one of the most famous movie renditions of the wise Jedi master who helps to awaken and focus the force within the young Padawan. This age-old tradition is also getting a modern make-over and revival in our secular world into its current incarnation of the “Life Coach.” This label often refers to an old tradition of one who offers tools, insight and guides the student to master their own life circumstances inside and out to become a conscious, active participant and creator in their own personal life narrative.
There are many terms used in multiple traditions to describe not only this idea of a mentor or coach. The essence of this intimate teacher/student relationship imparts mystical knowledge and wisdom, illuminates the unconscious and often radiates a powerful “spiritual” transmission or invitation of exploring and knowing your Self at a deeper level of Awareness that is truly beyond the ability of the rational mind to comprehend.
“The Teacher who is indeed wise
does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom
but rather leads you to threshold of your mind.”
For the last 20 years of my life I have always had one or more teachers, guides or mentors who play this role for me. Without their honest, objective perspective and their deep love and devotion I know that I would not have realized the version of who I am today. This is why I advocate, endorse, and personally practice this alchemical relationship (as teacher & student) and I firmly believe in the power that a true coach, mentor or a guide offers to your spiritual growth. At the highest level, there is a humility, knowingness and mature recognition when a “student” or seeker realizes that internal hunger for something more—deeper refinement, training, and growth through an objective example, role model or living example of what they respect, admire and hope to emulate.
The teacher is the one who is commissioned for the sole purpose to help empower you to realize, celebrate and express the highest and most evolved version of you, one who is devoted to aid in the path of Self-discovery at some level and assists in the refinement of those foundational character traits of accountability, integrity, balance, humility and respect within you.
Everyone needs an objective and alternative perspective that is truly working to serve your highest potential. This relationship aids to clarify, reflect, and inspire you to put into action the necessary steps to transform your inner and outer relationship. It assists you to “let go” of the old, stagnant and contractive patterns that no longer serve your life and it also inspires you to expand beyond your perceived limits to realize and live more of your unlimited potential. If you can envision something MORE, OTHER, & BEYOND then you are not only ready, but you have already begun the process to realize that relationship within and without.
“When the student is ready the Master appears…”
This old adage has quickly become a common piece of sage advice in our modern world of Spirituality. What does it mean? How do you really know which coach, mentor, or guide is not only “the real deal”, but is also the right fit for you? What criteria should you be looking for? How would you know for sure? Over the years, I have been asked these questions by many seekers. When choosing a mentor, teacher or guide for your journey, here are some points and dynamics to consider…
The teacher’s presence “affects” you. You will resonate to your teacher or mentor and you will feel a sense of kinship with their manner, teaching method and their very presence. The mentor will feel strangely familiar and their presence in your life will ignite something within you that is ready to come to the surface. There will be an undeniable connection that may not make rational sense, yet some inexplicable sense of “je ne sais quoi” makes your feel strangely attuned. The teacher may offer an invitation but the teacher rarely chooses the student. The student chooses the teacher.
The teacher serves your Self (big “S”) not your self (small “s”). A truly conscious teacher is devoted and honest with you and will lovingly challenge and inspire you to be “uncomfortable” and push you to the far end of your comfort zone where all lasting transformation occurs. They will not be fooled by your excuses, seduced by your patterns and they will recognize and sometimes confront the mercurial and sly ego-matrix that is often your worst enemy. Their job is to hold you accountable to the truth and empower your process. The teacher can only do this for you, because they have learned to see this in their own consciousness. They cannot truly help you to transform anything in you that they have not already mastered within.
A true guide empowers you through Expansion. Expansion inspires expansion… An effective teacher will inspire, uplift, honor and encourage you through expansion as opposed to contraction. They will point out unrefined parts of you that may make you uncomfortable, but their focus will be on helping you heal, transcend and integrate those unrefined aspects. We often experience powerful expansion as discomfort as we push outside of our familiar and stuck spaces, but that is different than contraction. People often confuse the two. When you realize the difference between contraction and discomfort then real growth will prevail. The teacher can guide you through recognizing this process.
The honorable teacher will “walk his talk.” This is another way of saying that your mentor has personal integrity. They reflect on the outside what is on the inside. Your guide will not only reflect and teach their version of the truth, but they are also be a living example of their own teachings and process. They teach from their personal experience and offer you the tools, guidance and perspective that they have practiced themselves and have achieved a level of mastery with in their own journey.
A great teacher is continually devoted to their own evolvement. A great teacher was (and is) a devoted student. Choose a teacher who is always hungry for more growth… They cherish and consciously invite refinement with humility and grace. They are the epitome of the perpetual student of life, always looking to refine themselves and deepen their experience of Self. Be cautious of anyone who espouses that they have “arrived” or are “done.” Humility is a character trait that opens the Universe to you. The most accomplished teachers are the best students and never give up their quest to discover more, other and beyond their present consciousness.
A wise teacher is a living river of invitation. A patient teacher will offer invitations, advice and guidance but they will allow you to make your own choices and help guide you through your process. It is your journey, your process and your adventure. The teacher who is the living as invitation has enough wisdom to allow you to find your way. They may be stern or strict at times, but their personal experience has taught them that every decision is part of your process and that journey empowers you. They may not make you do anything that you do not want to do, but consider that when they offer advice, guidance or see something within you. It behooves you to pay close attention… especially since you chose them to serve in this capacity in your life.
A teacher empowers and inspires you to ALWAYS follow your heart. Even though this guide will serve as your temporary set of “training wheels” and you may heed their advice and follow their direction through your process, their ultimate goal will be to point you back to your Self so you can discover what feels right to you. They will encourage you to follow your own intuition, inner guidance, listen to your heart and make choices that resonate with you. Do not allow anyone to impose their agenda, ideas or their version of the truth upon you at the expense of your own internal knowing.
Always be aware, thoughtful and conscious with your decision and trust your instincts and your inner knowing. Pay attention to the signs that have led you to this one and allow the process to unfold naturally. If it is meant to be, it will be apparent to you on some level. And remember, you always reserve the right to change your mind as the relationship to your Self deepens. Always re-evaluate your outer relationships as your inner experience evolves.
You may resonate to certain teachers and mentors and choose to learn from them, respecting their guidance and wisdom, during a certain time for a specific lesson on your journey, but you are not obligated to stay with anyone if it does feel expansive to you and you no longer feel truly empowered by them. As you change your teachers may change. A true teacher will respect and support you to trust your own decision in exploring your truth in the way that feels right to you. Always follow your heart. There is no such thing as a wrong decision and each one of your choices creates a new path of exploration. They are all wonderful opportunities on your adventure that invite you to awaken and realize the unlimited potential of your True Self…
– Markus William Kasunich
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